The Dead Travel Fast
by Deanna Raybourn
When Theodora Lestrange receives an invitation from her friend Cosmina to visit her fiancee's castle in Transylvania, it seems like the perfect solution to several vexing problems. It allows Theodora to travel, and gives her a place to stay after her grandfather's death has left her homeless. A writer of horror stories, Theodora will also be greatly inspired by the rich Romanian atmosphere. Getting away from Edinburgh also gets Theodora away from a lovestruck suitor and buys her time to think about his offer of marriage. So Theodora sets off almost immediately and soon finds herself in the castle of Count Dragulescu, a place full of secrets and whispered tales of vampires.
The moody Count has been recalled to Transylvania to marry Cosmina and manage his estate after his father passed away, but he soon makes it clear he has no intention of marrying Cosmina or remaining at Castle Dragulescu. Theodora is fascinated by this dark, brooding man - and he is clearly attracted to her - but social propriety prevents either of them from acting on their desires. When one of the servants is murdered soon after Theodora's arrival, rumors of a vampire stalking the castle spread rapidly. Is it the recently deceased Count, returned from the grave? But this is the nineteeth century, so surely there's no such thing as vampires. But if the supernatural can't be blamed, that means one of the people living in the castle is responsible for the killing...and that means Theodora still isn't safe.
The Dead Travel Fast is a paranormal romance. Oh, romance novels. Every time I read one and enjoy it, I worry that I'm one step closer to becoming one of those little old church ladies with white permed hair who volunteer to work in charity/thrift shops so they get first dibs on mass market paperbacks with Fabio on the cover. Luckily, most of the time the enjoyment comes from laughing at the bad euphemisms and ridiculous, over-the-top language, and my descent into decrepitude can be put off for a while yet The Dead Travel Fast does not fall into this category; it's a quick, easy read that I breezed through it in a single rainy afternoon, and I thought it was quite fun.
Since our main character Theodora is an author seeking the right 'mood' to produce her next horror story, the writing is very much like a classic Gothic novel. I really liked the atmospheric prose that brought rural Transylvania to life in all its creepy, shadowy glory. Set in a moldering castle, lushly described, I found myself easily absorbed into the world of the Dragulescu. Many Romanian myths and folk traditions are woven into the story, further giving a sense of antiquity and ancient tradition to the Count's fiefdom.
Theodora LeStrange is a very modern woman, almost too modern. The way that she took charge of her life was admirable, and I enjoyed her plucky, indomitable spirit. I didn't feel that Theodora matched her time period, but I enjoyed her presence nevertheless. Her struggle to balance the superstitions of the Romanian people and her modern Victorian sensibilities kept a strong tension running throughout the story. It was a little weird that I liked her, because usually I'm quite bothered by anachronistic women running around in the past.
The Count, on the other hand, seemed to have little going for him other than being moody and haughty. We're told again and again - by him, and by other characters - that he's evil, a master manipulator, etc. etc. etc. - and it becomes baffling that an otherwise intelligent woman like Theodora thinks she can change him. I guess that's the redemptive power of love...and the need for a romance novel to end with a happy conclusion?
It's not 'classic literature' but if you want something that will quickly transport to another time and place Deanna Rayborn's latest novel will do the trick. The Dead Travel Fast is just the sort of book perfect for beaches, poolsides, and long commutes on public transportation.